Sim Kwang Yang
In Malaysian elections of the past, postal votes have saved various ruling party candidates from defeat in several electoral contests. An inexplicably overwhelming majority of postal votes invariably goes to the incumbent.
Electoral reform must include a review of the system of casting postal votes, to ensure the sacrosanct secrecy of the votes.
At the moment, there is very little confidentiality in the postal votes that have been cast by the police personnel, armed forces and the Election Commission workers.
The business of vote-fixing
I append herewith a short passage from blog Loyar Buruk, by Ivy Kwek, who has made some revealing expositions on the pitfalls of postal votes.
“Postal votes can be regarded as a ‘fixed deposit’ for the incumbent government. This can be seen in the constituency of Senadin (right), where the PKR candidate was leading by a substantial number of votes but was eventually overcome by postal votes in favour of the BN candidate, causing the PKR candidate to lose the election by a mere 58 votes.
“In Dudong, one of the constituencies in which the DAP contested, the election battle with SUPP, the other party contesting the seat, was close. The counting of the votes was a very tense affair until, at least for a short while, the DAP finally took the lead by about a thousand votes.
“At that time, the counting of postal votes – which numbered about 700 in that constituency – had yet to be completed. Just as the DAP was about to celebrate its unofficial victory, a blackout occurred in the counting centre of the postal votes (one can only guess what can happen to the ballot papers in the dark!). Fortunately, the matter was resolved amicably between the leaders of both parties without unnecessary chaos.
“Postal votes also make vote-buying easier, as its complicated process is more prone to loopholes and abuses. As the ballot paper can be taken out of the voting station unlike normal voting, it is easy for the voter to show an ‘interested party’ his or her vote in return for a monetary reward.
“On the second day after the postal votes were issued, a DAP polling agent in Sibu caught on video a group of people purportedly involved in vote-buying. A man was seen giving three or four ladies orange papers similar to postal ballot papers along a building staircase.
“When they realised that the ‘transaction’ was being recorded, they quickly dispersed into the crowd. Although the ladies later denied any wrongdoing when contacted, their actions remain highly suspect and demonstrate the vulnerability of the system”.
Secrecy of votes critical
There is very little regard given to protect the sanctity of the postal vote. This is common knowledge to anybody who has taken part in the many general and by-elections in the country.
In some cases, on the odd occasion, corruption involving postal votes may even thwart the will of the people to elect a candidate of the choice. Instead, the party that can offer the biggest cash payment will win the postal vote.
A review of the electoral process in Malaysia must include the introduction of new measures to guarantee the secrecy of the votes, and we urgently need new measures to ensure free and fair electoral processes before the next general election.
All parties must insist on urgent reform of the entire skewed process of casting postal votes.
I too, have anecdotes to tell about the leakages in the postal voting system, though mine is a story with a slight twist.
Once, when I was contesting for a general election in Sarawak, I was approached by a senior army officer. He offered me thousands of postal votes in his camp – for a fee.
The cash he asked for was not an enormous amount, for in the words of this soldier, it was a concession to me, because he supported my candidacy for an opposition party.
Perhaps he also knew that our opposition party was hardly wealthy, and raised most of our own campaign funds from local volunteers.
I had to turn down the army officer’s offer, because of my personal conviction in the sanctity of the vote. In the end, we lost
that particular election.
After all, winning or losing a seat is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Voting the cornerstone of democracy
When a person goes to vote, the act of voting according to his conscience is the most fundamental premise of the democratic process.
Voting must be free and fair, so that the winner can claim to have the moral authority of representation, irrespective of whoever gets elected.
The sanctity of the vote is the cornerstone upon which we build our democratic system, and we must not let anybody usurp the sanctity of the vote.
This is why we need to reform our postal vote system urgently. It is also why Bersih’s work deserves the support of all Malaysians.
SIM KWANG YANG was member of parliament for Bandar Kuching, Sarawak from 1982 to 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments are welcomed.